Charter company fined for endangering whales

Alaska Yacht Charters has been fined $5,000 for coming too close to a pod of humpback whales on the western side of Admiralty Island.

An administrative law judge for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ordered the fine last week, though the agency just released the decision yesterday (Thursday).

In the order, Administrative Law Judge Susan Biro calls Alaskan Story Skipper Geoffrey Wilson reckless in the July 2010 incident in which his vessel came within 30 feet of a pod of breaching whales.

Passengers on a nearby vessel reported the incident to NOAA law enforcement.  They later testified that they watched the Alaskan Story drive through the pod of six to eight humpbacks.  According to the NOAA case record, their photos of the incident were admitted into evidence at the hearing.

Both the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection acts prohibit the pursuit of whales.

NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle explains the regulations written to enforce the laws.

“You cannot approach within one-hundred yards of a humpback whale,” she says. “And with other marine mammal viewing, you should remain at least 100 hundred yards from the marine mammals.  Don’t spend too much time observing individual animals; limit that time to 30 min or less. And whales should not be encircled or trapped between boats or boats and shore.

Speegle says if a whale approaches the vessel, put the engine in neutral and allow the whale to pass.

Alaska Yacht Charters is based in Bainbridge Island, Washington and runs summer excursions between Juneau and Sitka.